Toronto – BlackBerry unveiled its business- and productivity-focused Passport smartphone, which the company promoted as a PC substitute for business people on the go.
The phone is “laser-focused on meeting the needs of the mobile professional,” said company executive Jeff Gadway. BlackBerry executive chairman/CEO John Chen called the phone a key part of what he called “a big Canadian comeback.” The phone is targeted to the 30 percent of mobile users who are most concerned about productivity and want a physical keyboard and long battery life, he added.
The BlackBerry Passport is available through the company’s ShopBlackBerry.com website for $599 without contract to customers in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, France and Germany. The company also plans availability through Amazon, and it will make the phone available in more than 30 countries before the end of the year through carriers. U.S. carrier plans were unavailable.
For productivity users, the passport-size phone features a 4.5-inch-square 1,440 by 1,440 HD screen to display 60 characters per line for easier document editing and reading without zooming, which would reduce the number of characters displayed at one time. The touch-enabled physical QWERTY keyboard lets users edit without a pop-up virtual keyboard covering up onscreen text, and the keyboard’s capacitive touch capability enhances typing speed and accuracy by “combining the accuracy of a physical keyboard with the fluidity of touch,” said Gadway. Users can swipe the keyboard to scroll through content and highlight text for editing. Touching and swiping the keyboard brings up and moves a cursor.
Though the physical keyboard has only three rows, a fourth on-screen row is available and changes functions depending on the app in use.
The phone also features a personal assistant that, unlike the Apple and Android personal assistants, accesses secure data behind an enterprise firewall, including contacts, calendar items and documents. The personal assistant’s universal search displays results from personal data and from secure work data. The assistant can be accessed by voice or, during meetings, by typing commands whose results will appear onscreen. In a moving vehicle, the personal assistant operates hands- and eyes-free.
Also for power users, the speakerphone capability is said to rival the quality of office conference-call equipment, and the 3,450 mAh battery delivers 30 hours of mixed use.
In another productivity-focused enhancement, the company launched BlackBerry Blend, an app that can be downloaded onto Apple and Windows laptops and onto Apple, Android and Windows tablets. BlackBerry Blend enables secure access from the devices to work documents stored on a corporate PC, to Passport-stored content and to Passport’s communications apps. Documents stored on one Blend-equipped device will be viewable on all Blend-equipped devices. Also from a Blend-equipped device, users will be able to view Passport-stored documents, view Passport email and messages, and respond to those emails and messages.
The phone’s speakerphone capability is 350 percent louder than the Galaxy S5’s and 18 percent louder than the HTC One’s, and its delivers superior frequency response for a more natural sound, the company said.
Voice-call enhancements for on-the-go use include the ability to adapt to noisy environments by automatically boosting volume and adjusting EQ. The phone also boosts the volume of incoming calls from quiet talkers. The phone also boosts volume if the earpiece is not that close to the user’s ear.
The phone is BlackBerry’s first with a quad-core processor, which operates at 2.2GHz. Other key specs include 3GB RAM, 32GB storage, 13-megapixel camera with optical image stabilization, HD screen with 453 dpi, Gorilla Glass, , and the latest BlackBerry version of the BlackBerry 10OS. The 10.3 OS enables such features as the personal assistant, a new UI and instant actions from the communications hub. Instant actions lets users accept calendar items, respond to BBM messages, and quickly perform triage on a hefty message inbox without leaving the hub’s list view.
The phone not only accesses BlackBerry’s app store but also hundreds of thousands of apps available on the Amazon store.